Last season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington rebounded from his release from the Jets to take a one-win team to the playoffs, running away with the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
With the 2009 season approaching in a matter of months, the NFL has a great share of marquee players starting anew. These players have gone though injuries, to themselves or to the teammates they rely on, or have been cast off as useless to their former teams—and they are poised to a comeback.
10. Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Once considered the steal of the 2006 draft, Addai has had injuries and inconsistent offensive line play hinder his production. Last season, Addai failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his three-year career (544 yards), averaged a small 3.5 yards per attempt, and had only five touchdowns on the ground.
With spell-back Dominic Rhodes and his 538 yards out the door and healthy legs, Addai could be poised for his biggest year yet. A change at head coach and offensive coordinator could signal an increased role for Addai, but the offense will still run through Peyton Manning.
9. Joey Galloway, WR, New England Patriots
Galloway used to be the top threat on whichever team he played for, but at the age of 37 and coming off an injury-plagued year in which he accumulated only 13 receptions for 138 yards and no scores, Galloway was let go by Tampa Bay.
New England, synonymous with taking up players thought to have lost a step and turning them into Pro Bowl players, signed Galloway to a one-year deal in the offseason.
Galloway is expected to be what Donte' Stallworth was for the record-setting 2007 Patriots—stretching the field, opening up places for Randy Moss and Wes Welker to roam.
While Stallworth's numbers (46 receptions, 697 yards, three touchdowns) in Foxboro do not jump off the page, it may be more of a Stallworth problem than a problem with that particular spot at receiver. If Moss and Welker draw massive attention from defenses, look for a big year from Galloway.
8. Michael Boley, LB, New York Giants
Boley took the league by storm in 2007, racking up 109 tackles, three sacks, and four forced fumbles with the Falcons. In 2008, however, Boley was held without a sack and totaled only 73 tackles.
Boley signed with the Giants this offseason, and with the talent the Giants have in the front seven, Boley could be looking at a career year. A rebound from a year like last by surpassing his current career-high numbers would be cause for Comeback POY consideration.
7b. Daunte Culpepper, QB, Detroit Lions
When you are the conductor of an 0-16 offense, up is the only way to go. Culpepper was the league's most-feared quarterback before a knee injury sent his career downward. He is not expected to be the future of this team, but he is expected to help groom No. 1 pick Matt Stafford while in Detroit.
He has a prototypical wide receiver in Calvin Johnson, and a year under the system can only bode well for him. He must know that he will most likely be gone after this season, and a huge year would increase his value tenfold.
Last season, Culpepper threw for 786 yards and four touchdowns in five games in Detroit. Perhaps Culpepper has learned to play without his mobility, and 2009 will finally be the year he returns to form.
7a. Vince Young, QB, Tennessee Titans
It's a shot in the dark, but it can be argued that Kerry Collins is not the right man for the Titans offense this year. Collins replaced Young last season when the young QB went down with injury, and with a 7-0 start, head coach Jeff Fisher decided to go with the hot hand.
This year, with a number of key Titans defenders leaving, Collins' weakness at quarterback may be exposed, and they would be looking to their former No. 3 overall draft pick.
Young only played in three games last season, and if he can return to the form he had in his rookie season, with a large amount of maturation during the past few years, he could be the comeback story of the year.
5. Torry Holt, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
After the glory years of Holt's Super Bowl years passed him, and the Rams had slipped to two straight No. 2 overall selections and hired a defensive-minded head coach, Holt was cast off to free agency.
Holt grabbed 64 balls for 796 yards and four touchdowns last season, far from what his fans had grown accustomed to. Jacksonville scooped him up, and he gives them their first real threat at WR since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell.
With David Garrard also looking to bounce back this year, look for Holt to eclipse the 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown mark in his first season in the AFC.
4. Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns
After a spectacular season in 2007, Anderson had himself and the Browns in the national spotlight, and both crumbled in 2008. With the firing of his coach and the hiring of a new one, Anderson looks to bounce back to his '07 form.
Last season, Anderson struggled through 10 games with 1,615 yards and nine touchdowns.
New coach Eric Mangini has said it will be an open competition for the quarterback position, but Anderson should win it with his experience and prototypical size. Star wide receiver Braylon Edwards looks to be staying in Cleveland, which bodes well for Anderson, but dealing with the loss of TE Kellen Winslow will be a tough thing to overcome.
3. Shawne Merriman, LB, San Diego Chargers
After being busted for steroids and having his knee explode, the once most-feared defensive player in the NFL has fallen under the radar. Coming back to a playoff team once again loaded with depth, Merriman could be on his way to a Comeback POY award.
Merriman had 39.5 sacks in three seasons before a two-tackle season in 2008, and he could be dancing his way back into the spotlight.
A 10-sack season would easily give him the award, but with rookie Larry English joining the team as an edge rusher, that may be a tough thing for him to accomplish.
2. Chad Ochocinco, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The player formerly known as Johnson (and soon to be just a symbol), Ochocinco has finally been given permission to have his outrageous name, and he finally is getting a healthy Carson Palmer back in the stable.
Chad only had 53 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns last season, a far cry from his 93-catch, 1,440-yard, eight-touchdown season in '07. The quarterback that made him a household name is returning from a slew of injuries, and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Seattle, Ochocinco has all the spotlight he could possibly want.
Although the NFL would be reluctant to give any awards to the man who singlehandedly pushes every one of its envelopes, a big year from him would be quite a comeback.
While a big year from him would be impressive, he relies far too much on another player to not have him be mentioned...
1b. Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
If Palmer has a big year with players other than Ochocinco, it would be impossible not to give the award to Palmer. He threw for just 741 yards and three touchdowns before blowing out his elbow; this following a 4,131-yard and 26-touchdown season in 2007.
The Bengals are not the same team without Palmer, as evidenced by his best receiver's numbers and the team's overall record.
The perennial Pro Bowl quarterback insists he is 100 percent healthy, and if it is true, Palmer could have one of the biggest years of any QB in the league.
1a. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Would there be anyone else in the top spot? Not only is he in the top two for quarterbacks in the league, but a drop-off from 50 touchdowns to zero is certainly a reason to put someone on the comeback player watch list.
He comes back to a reloaded offense, including a couple of well-known receivers that are grinning ear to ear to see him come back. Brady is playing with an intense amount of pressure, as the entire New England area is hinging its championship hopes on his shoulders, but no one has been better at handling pressure than Brady.
The big question for Tom Terrific is whether his knee will hold up, but word out of New England is that his knee is actually stronger than ever.
Any number of touchdowns over 25 will be impressive, but with the record his team is expected to have at season's end, he is a near certainty for the award this season.